Exclusive: The Dominican Republic has displaced hundreds of children without their families to Haiti this year | CNN



Hundreds of children have been displaced from the Dominican Republic without their parents, according to UNICEF, amid a sweeping government effort to remove suspected undocumented migrants from the country.

The United Nations Children’s Agency has taken in at least 1,800 unaccompanied children delivered to Haiti by Dominican immigration authorities since the beginning of the year, a spokesperson told CNN Monday.

Many arrive without identity papers and are “shipped” into the country amid adult deportees, the spokesman also said, raising the question of how Dominican authorities determined they belonged in Haiti in the first place.

In the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, parents without children are sometimes held in immigrant detention centers.

“A woman had a diaper bag with her, but not the baby. [Immigration agents] told her she couldn’t carry her baby and that they would take him to the bus — but then they didn’t take the baby to the bus,” said Yoana Kuzmova, a researcher at the Dominican Migration Policy Think Tank. for migration observation and social development in the Caribbean.

The Dominican Republic has long sought to reduce the Haitian population within its borders. But this year’s latest wave of deportations is happening at an astonishing speed and scale, prompting critics to accuse the Caribbean country’s government of racial profiling, chaotic execution and disregard for human rights and families as immigration agents drive people out of the country.

The US embassy in the Dominican Republic has warned black and “darker-skinned Americans” that they risk “more interaction” with Dominican authorities amid immigration policies. In a statement released Saturday, the embassy described “reports of the unequal treatment” of US citizens based on skin color.

But Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader has rejected calls to stop the deportations, arguing that the Dominican Republic already supports neighboring Haiti more than any other country in the world.

CNN has contacted the Dominican Republic’s Migration Agency for comment.

In October alone, 14,801 people were sent to Haiti from the Dominican Republic, according to data from the Haitian aid organization Groupe d’Appui des Rapatriés et Réfugiés — an average of 477 people per day.

Videos on social media that appear to show Dominican immigration authorities conducting raids have caused panic among Haitians and people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, and even some who legally live in the Dominican Republic told CNN they fear for their homes to leave.

Haiti’s communications ministry on Sunday called on its neighbor to respect “human dignity,” citing the “stunning images … that have drawn attention to the inhumane and degrading treatment of Haitian citizens in the Dominican Republic.”

The dragnet of immigration has swept some people regardless of their nationality or legal status, according to former inmates and experts interviewed by CNN, as well as the statement from the US Embassy.

A Haitian man, who legally lives and works in the Dominican Republic, told CNN that immigration agents broke into his home in the middle of the night and refused to listen to his arguments.

“I slept in my house with my family. At 3 AM (local time), a group of immigration officials broke down my door and arrested me. They didn’t ask me for my papers or anything; they wouldn’t let me finish,” says a man of Haitian descent, whose legal work permit was extended when he was arrested.

“They just grabbed me and took me; I told them I had papers and they weren’t even listening,” he added.

He was held overnight in appalling conditions before being released the following day.

A video he secretly filmed and shared with CNN showed a concrete building with cramped stalls filled with food and blackened garbage, and a narrow room with no beds where at least 15 other detained men waited.

“They treat them like animals. Once they put them in jail, they let them sleep there on the floor without feeding them. They destroyed people’s documents and in some cases people didn’t have a chance to show their papers,” said Sam Guillaume, a GARR spokesperson.

He added that his organization has taken in several Dominican citizens in Haiti who have been wrongfully seized and deported.

The Dominican Republic’s efforts to remove people of Haitian descent from the country go back years.

In 2013, the country’s constitutional court controversially ruled that Dominicans born in the country to undocumented parents should be stripped of their citizenship — leaving tens of thousands of people stateless and with no other country to call home.

Popularly known as “La Sentencia” or the Sentence, it “created a situation of statelessness of a magnitude never before seen in America,” according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Many Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic rely on short-term residence permits to legally remain in the country through a “regularization plan”. But Kuzmova, the legal examiner, says she hears “time and time again” that they are at risk of eviction as they wait for those permits to be renewed.

“When it comes to Haitian migrants, the residence permit is valid for one year and they take a year to renew it. So the reality is that if this person who qualifies for a permit is caught on the street, they don’t have a valid document on them,” she says.

“What people say is that if you get caught with an expired card, they destroy it. And that was actually the proof you had that you were in the regularization plan.”

A new presidential decree issued last week to create a specialized law enforcement unit to combat squatting could also be used to target people of Haitian descent living in historic sugar plantation villages known as batogenwhich once attracted large numbers of migrant workers.

“The people who live there now are mostly retired old people who worked on the plantations, and they have no title deeds. So that could be another way to use the police to enforce deportations,” says Kuzmova.

As Haiti struggles to recover from interconnected political and security crises, the UN has repeatedly called on the Dominican Republic to stop sending people there.

“The ongoing armed violence and systematic human rights violations in Haiti currently prevent the safe, dignified and sustainable return of Haitians to the country. I reiterate my call to all countries in the region, including the Dominican Republic, to stop the deportation of Haitians,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said earlier this month.

Two days later Luis Abinader, the president of the Dominican Republic, responded derisively, describing Turk’s statement as “unacceptable and irresponsible” – and saying he would speed up the deportations instead.

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